MIFF Next Gen Review: What Richard Did

0 Comments 23 July 2013

Continuing our reviews for the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Next Gen program, GEORGE KOPELIS takes a look at Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did.

Lenny Abrahamson’s fourth feature film, What Richard Did, leaves viewers contemplating the murky undertone lingering amongst youths in Western society. Loosely based on Kevin Power’s fictionalised tale Bad Day in Blackrock, it explores the inner mechanisms of the teenage mind, and how a close-knit community is affected by an unspeakable tragedy.

Privileged, popular rugby champion Richard Karlsen is at the height of his powers, having recently completed his secondary schooling. But during the summer break before university his seemingly perfect life unravels in an instant. Rising star Jack Reynor (to feature in the fourth instalment of Michael Bay’s Transformers series next year) gives a compelling performance as Richard, portraying both the confident exterior and the less-secure interior of the golden boy from the south side of Dublin.

Afflicted by jealousy, Richard’s relationship with Lara (Roisin Murphy) reveals a controlling side to this teen with “everything worked out” for him, and when he suspects a rival for Lara’s affections in rugby teammate Connor Harris, it brings out the worst in him.

The film slowly builds to its alcohol-fuelled climax, with Abrahamson gradually introducing various elements to undermine the image of “Super Rich”. Excessive drinking and smoking emerge as a darker side of Irish culture. Indeed, the behaviour of Richard and “the lads” can easily be transferred to any Western culture, Australia included.

The young cast functions largely with ease, adopting the eerily calm Irish coast as the site for the various trivial escapades before the calamity — after which, all cast members display genuine emotion while offering an intriguing insight into the morality of ordinary teenagers. More alarming than their youthful transgressions, however, is the silence of the majority in the aftermath of that one terrible night. Only three witnesses to the incident come forward to the authorities, out of dozens of onlookers. This provokes viewers to reflect upon their own moral compass and ask themselves whether they would have indicted their own friends.

Richard’s assertion that “it just got out of hand” is an attempt to transfer blame away from his once-faultless hands. And the fact that adults in the community — including his father — support this frame of mind is extremely worrying. Indeed, Richard’s apology to his did (“I’m so sorry, Dad”) reeks of a society raised on the dreams of the previous generation: as Richard unravels like a ball of yarn, his entire life is unmasked as a creation of his rugby-legend father, who wants his son to follow in his footsteps.

The muted colours and sparingly used soundtrack create an atmosphere of trepidation throughout the film’s 87 minutes. Combined with a lack of dialogue in the latter half of the film, this serves to magnify the mental turmoil Richard is struggling to deal with, and some of the film’s most confronting scenes taking place with him alone in the isolated family cabin on the coast, symbolising the gulf that now exists between him and the rest of society.

The film’s ending is somewhat abrupt, without a real resolution to proceedings. But ultimately, a greater concept is raised: is the golden boy of Dublin grieving for the loss of those involved in the tragedy? Or is he really weeping for his own loss of perfection? Abrahamson wisely leaves this question for the viewer to decide.

What Richard Did screens at MIFF on July 28 and 31, and August 8. Visit for more information.

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